It Takes Hard Work To Be CHAMPS

By Roger Burks –

I’m not a big fan of sports analogies, but I am a college basketball fanatic. And it’s March. Throw in the fact that my alma mater – the Kansas Jayhawks – are the #1 team in the land, and that’s got me considering similarities between what happens on the court and what’s going within my organization right now.

So let’s talk chalk: a team doesn’t achieve success without plenty of practice. In basketball, that means taking plenty of shots. Honing the passing game. Knowing the playbook.

There’s also the importance of getting to know each other’s strengths and personalities, anticipating needs and building trust. And those are skills that translate verbatim into building an organization’s communications strategy, no analogy or translation needed.

I’ve been with my current organization, the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) Network, since September as its initial communications director. The organization itself has only been around since last May, when it received funding to help investigate and determine the causes of child mortality in some of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. So it’s a start-up – we’re building almost everything from scratch.

It’s a big initiative – about 20 country sites over a 20-year span – but that’s by necessity. Around the world, more than 16,000 children under the age of five die every day; that’s almost six million each year. At least 82 percent of those deaths take place in southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. But there’s an added challenge: even though approximately two-thirds of those deaths are due to infectious (and largely preventable) causes, the exact causes for the vast majority go undiagnosed.

It’s a critical cause, one that will save lives and support the Sustainable Development Goals. There’s so much to say.

But, right now, our team is putting together the game plan, including how we’ll communicate our work to audiences around the world. We’re working on the fundamentals, which includes how our communications both draws from and informs the CHAMPS Network’s variety of sites and systems. And, as previously mentioned, that requires trust. Practice. Teamwork.

In college basketball, two 20-minute halves are when we see a team’s character and hard work on display. Yet hours of team practice go into those 40 minutes. And years of individual practice precede those team efforts.

It’s a similar pursuit when it comes to organizational communications like what we’re building for CHAMPS. There’s so much more behind a tweet than the 140 characters you see. A story doesn’t necessarily tell the tale of what went into it. There’s teamwork in every aspect of communications that goes beyond the byline. There’s trust. There’s practice.

In the coming weeks – after months of preparation, dozens of meetings and hundreds of conversations – CHAMPS communications will debut for a global audience. We’ll put our best out there. And hopefully, with hard work and some luck, we’ll show the world who we are and what we can do.

About The Author

Joy Portella

Joy Portella

Founder and President

Joy leads the Minerva Strategies team, providing senior-level direction to every client. Her skills have been honed through more than two decades of experience helping organizations more effectively communicate with media, donors, policymakers and other key audiences.

Prior to establishing Minerva, Joy spent five years as director of communications at the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. She guided Mercy Corps’ messaging, media relations, and crisis communications, and traveled extensively to document work in global hotspots including the Horn of Africa, the Gaza Strip, and North Korea. Previously, Joy worked for a decade at leading communication firms – Burson-Marsteller, Ruder Finn and SS+K – in New York and Washington DC.